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By Roger Chartier

 

Hetty Green - New Bedford

She was born Henrietta Howland Robinson in New Bedford, Ma. on November 21, 1834.

She died at 81 years of age on July 3, 1916 after amassing a huge fortune making her the richest woman in the world at that time.

Let me refer you to the books written about her fascinating life.

The Day They Shook The Plum Tree by Arthur H. Lewis

The Witch of Wall Street by Daniel Alef.
1900's Photo of Hetty Green.
"Hetty" by Charles Slack .

More information and images below.

Hetty Green - "The Witch of Wall Street"  - New Bedford, Ma. - www.WhalingCity.net


Often available for
under $15.00
   

In her later years she grew older to become very eccentric.
Her parents were Edward Mott Robinson and Abby Howland. Her family were Quakers.
Her father owned a large fleet of whaling ships. her mother was often quite ill and so Hetty lived with her grandfather Gideon Howland and was influenced by the business men of the family.

She was reading the financial newspapers to her grandfather when she was 6 years old, and at 13 became the bookkeeper for the family business. At age 15 she went off to school in Boston.

Her father died in 1864 when Hetty was 30 years old and she then inherited 7.5 million dollars in liquid assets from her father. Her family didn't approve, however, Hetty invested in Civil War Bonds.

A notorious situation arose when her aunt Sylvia died and willed most of her $2 million to charity.
Hetty challenged the will with another will that Hetty said was from her Aunt Sylvia.
Often thought of as a forgery the document was challenged in court and after a five year legal battle Hetty lost.

When Hetty was 33 years old she married Edward Henry Green on July 11, 1867.
His family was from Vermont and had their own wealth. Despite that Hetty made Edward agree to a pre-nuptial renouncing any claim to her money.

After the couple had moved to his home in Manhattan, Hetty became embroiled in a legal battle brought by her cousins where she was sued for forgery.

At that point Hetty and Edward moved to London, England where they lived in the Langham Hotel.
They had two children that were born while they were there.

On August 22, 1868 "Ned" Edward Howland Robinson Green was born and on January 7, 1871 his sister Hetty Sylvia Ann Howland Green was born.

Hetty and her husband made separate investments each with their own money.
She was brilliant and with her inheritance made investments that reaped as much as $1.25 million in one year from bond investments.

Her lifetime investment strategy was to make safe conservative investments and back everything up with cash reserves.

From London she invested in the post Civil War US currency of the time.
This allowed her to finance very profitable rail bond purchases.

After their time living in London they returned to the US and went to live at Edward's hometown in Bellows Falls, Vermont.
There she earned a reputation as difficult and argumentative with family, in-laws and anyone else that she had dealings with.
In 1885 Hetty caught her husband in a sneaky bit of business where he had borrowed substantial amounts of money from company called John J. Cisco & Son that Hetty had been the main investor in.
In that year the company collapsed and an investigation showed that he had been borrowing the money based on his relationship with his wife Hetty.

She made the point to the company that their finances were not as one and she took her securities out of the company and deposited them in a bank.

She must have given him the boot because he moved out . Later in his life she managed to reconcile with him somewhat.
He died in 1902 from heart disease and nephritis. He is buried in Bellows Falls at the Immanuel Church Cemetery. It was said that she helped to nurse him before his death.

She was miserly and looked the old hag. She was famous as a cheapskate.She wore the same black dress and underwear until they fell apart.
She was said to have never used hot water or turned on the heat.
When her son Ned broke his leg she refused to pay for the medical care that he needed and eventually he got gangrene and lost his leg and had to be fitted with a cork prosthesis.

Hetty did not approve of any of Sylvia's suitors and only allowed her to marry in 1909 after a 2 year courtship. She married Matthew Astor Wilks who was one of the heirs of the Astor fortune and at the time had $2 million himself.
Hetty was assured that he was not after Sylvia and Hetty's money.
He got paid $5,000.00 for signing a prenuptial agreement to waive his right to inherit Sylvia's money.


She was known to travel hundreds of miles alone to collect a debt of a few hundred dollars.

While in New York, the Seabord National Bank was her center of operations and since she didn't want to pay rent she threatened to withdraw her money from the bank if they didn't accommodate her with an office. The area was filled with her trunks and boxes of papers and accounts.

This is where she gained the moniker "The Witch of Wall Street". An unverified story is that she at oatmeal for lunch that was heated on a radiator.

Her main business was in real estate, railroads and lending money.
The city of New York came to her for several loans to keep operating. In 1907 she made out a check to loan the city 1.1 mill ion dollars and collected short term revenue bonds as payment.

After her children had established their own homes, Hetty made it a habit to constantly move between Brooklyn heights, New York andHoboken, New Jersey living in various small apartments to avoid establishing a permanent residence and paying tax in either state.

Later in life a hernia operation that would have cost her $150.00 was deemed too expensive and she lived with the misery of it until she died.

Before her death she became a bit more erratic.
Her first stroke came on April 17, 1916 while arguing with her friend Annie Leary's cook about the benefits of skimmed milk. Several more strokes followed that year until her death on July 3, necessitating the use of a wheel chair.

Her fortune at the time of her death were estimated to be from $100 million to $200 million (or $1.9 – $3.8 billion in 2006 dollars). This was considered to be an amount that made her the richest woman in the world at the time.
Her burial site was next to her husband's grave in Bellows Falls, Vermont.
As it was in a church grave yard and Hetty had been a Quaker the burial was allowed because she had planned ahead and converted to become an Episcopalian allowing her to be buried with her late husband.

Hetty Green - www.WhalingCity.net
 
 

 


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